BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As temperatures begin to drop, memories of the deadly December blizzard remain in the minds of many. Volunteers with snowmobile clubs stepped in to help, and now they’re looking for more benefits from the county in exchange.
The response to that blizzard by the government at all levels has been criticized. One major point of contention was the lack of equipment capable of getting to those in need of help.
Hurricane-force winds cut through city streets like a knife. Disorienting snowfall left even the most experienced Buffalonians feeling lost. And massive snow drifts left emergency vehicles and everyday people stranded.
Rich McNamara is treasurer of the Erie County Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, made up of 10 different groups. He helped rescue 41 stranded people during the blizzard, even helping hospital employees get to work.
McNamara said now more than ever, the federation and county need to hammer out a deal to formalize their partnership.
“We gotta talk,” said McNamara. “We gotta sit down — get it done.”
McNamara said similar discussions have taken place in the past.
“Every time after a snow event,” added McNamara. “We’ve had one with the 2014 storm, I was out there with another club member on the 400 and 90 rescuing people. Two, three months later all forgotten.”
McNamara says a preliminary agreement is in the works with Erie County. It would help with costs associated with federation clubs using their equipment to help during snow emergencies.
“After the storm, we had two meetings — one in January, one in February with their emergency management,” said McNamara. “You know, about working together, possibly an MOU and [Friday] we received a phone call that an MOU could be coming down.”
McNamara told us the federation is asking for county insurance to cover responding volunteers, equipment repairs and fuel money.
Bill Stickney is the chair of emergency coordination for the Federation. He said the cost of equipment such as a snow groomer and its maintenance is a huge expense.
“We run roughly 70 to 80 gallons of fuel and we’re running diesel fuel,” said Stickney. “You’re looking at current prices right around $5 a gallon.”
McNamara, however, expressed limited optimism that a deal would come together.
PATRICK RYAN: Are you optimistic that this is going to happen?
RICH MCNAMARA: Three out of ten.
News 4 reached out to the county for a comment on this but was told no one was available to speak over the weekend.
PATRICK RYAN: Do you think more lives could’ve been saved had there been more of a coordination with the clubs like you guys?
RICH MCNAMARA: I feel I don’t know circumstances of everything. There’s responsibility for everybody, even regular people they have to take care of yourself being prepared and aware of the situation. But if there was more coordination and more people involved — yes.
Both men with the Snowmobile Federation say when it comes to emergency preparedness, people at home should stock up on food, fuel and take weather alerts seriously.